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More than 500 coronavirus cases reported in county

LOS ANGELES — Two more people in Los Angeles County have died from coronavirus, public health officials announced March 23 while confirming another 128 positive cases of the illness, pushing the total over 530.

No details were immediately released about the patients who died. With 128 new cases — the largest daily jump so far — Los Angeles County has 536 cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the county’s public health department, said 42% of the patients are between the ages of 18 and 40, while 80% are between the ages of 18-65. She stressed the figures to drive home the point that the illness can affect anyone of any age — even young people who have generally been harder to convince of the need for social distancing.

Health officials have stressed since the outbreak began that while older people, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women can suffer more severe consequences from contracting coronavirus, the threat of being diagnosed with the illness is spread across all age groups. And while younger patients may suffer lesser symptoms, they can still spread the illness to people who may become more severely ill.

County and city officials again stressed that the number of cases will continue to increase as more testing becomes available. Ferrer noted that of the people being tested in the county, about 10% are testing positive for the illness.

On those lines, Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu announced that the city and county have struck an agreement with a South Korean firm Seegene Technologies Inc. to provide 20,000 new coronavirus tests, with the tests prioritized for first-responders and medical professionals. The 20,000 tests are the first of what is envisioned as a larger contract that could provide 100,000 tests per week to Los Angeles, Ryu said. Those tests will be made available to the public for free.

“The U.S. has fallen behind other nations in response to this pandemic,” Ryu said. “We need to take action ourselves. Los Angeles is not going to wait around. Los Angeles is working with manufacturers around the globe.

“This is just the beginning. There’s a lot of work left to be done and everyone needs to be involved, from government to academia to private industry to meet this crisis head on.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, meanwhile, said his agency will be providing 250,000 N95 protective masks to a medical supply distributor in Long Beach for distribution to hospitals throughout the county.

He said another 125,000 will be provided to the Los Angeles Police Department, and more will be provided to other law enforcement agencies.

County and city officials again drove home the need for people to adhere to social distancing requirements and follow the mandates of the “Safer at Home” orders that were issued last week. The restrictions were ramped up over the weekend in response to continued large-scale gatherings of people at beaches — most notably the Venice boardwalk — and on hiking trails.

The previous order prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people, but the revised wording released over the weekend prohibits “all indoor and outdoor public and private gatherings and events.”

People who go out for shopping or essential jobs are required to remain at least six feet away from anyone else. Residents are still free to go outside for walks, hikes or bike rides, but not in large groups.

The enhanced order March 21 also clarified that golf courses and personal grooming services — including hair and nail salons — are nonessential services and are closed. The order can be found online at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/.

It requires “all indoor malls and shopping centers, all swap meets and flea markets, all indoor and outdoor playgrounds and all non-essential businesses to close.”

Businesses considered essential and permitted to remain open include hardware stores, repair shops, media outlets, banks, laundromats, dry-cleaners and pet supply stores.

Officials said the order was amended to more closely mirror Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest state order. It covers all 88 cities in Los Angeles County, although officials in Pasadena and Long Beach — which have their own health departments — issued similar mandates of their own.

In a live-streamed remote news conference March 22, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that in consultation with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the city is closing the Venice boardwalk, beach parking lots and all organized group sports.

He reminded people to keep practicing social distancing, to stand at least six feet away from others. It’s a technique, he said, that will not only keep you safe but it will protect your love ones and others as well.

California health officials reported 1,733 positive cases across the state, with 27 deaths.

The city of Lynwood announced on Twitter March 22 that a female patient at St. Francis Hospital died of COVID-19. The patient’s name was not immediately released. She was identified only as a woman who had come to the hospital feeling ill, and died shortly afterward.

East Los Angeles College, meanwhile, announced that one of its students tested positive for COVID-19. The student reported feeling possible symptoms the week prior and was tested March 18. The student is in quarantine and reported to be doing well and is recovering.

“Out of an abundance of caution and guidance from public health protocols, all faculty and staff at East Los Angeles College who were previously scheduled to be on campus March 23 are now directed to work from home unless first contacted by their direct supervisor to report. … All faculty and staff who are already working remotely should continue to do so.”

The school said in a statement that the student appears to have been exposed to the virus while at UCLA sometime during the week of March 8. The student reports last being at the ELAC campus 10 days ago on March 12 — from approximately 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. in G5 Building-RT room with computers and may have also visited the Student Store.

Meanwhile, the hospital ship USNS Mercy is expected to arrive sometime this week at the Port of Los Angeles, providing an extra 1,000 beds to help alleviate the shortage of Southland hospital space.

Garcetti announced that the city is setting up a fund to provide child care for health workers, assistance for the needy and meals for seniors. The goal, he said, is to raise $25 million as soon as possible for the fund.

County officials have been working to establish quarantine/isolation areas for people who either have the virus, have been exposed to it or are showing symptoms. One location has already been established at Dockweiler State Beach, where RVs have been parked to provide isolation space.And the closed St. Vincent Medical Center in the Westlake district will also be used for patients with the virus.

Wave Wire Services